Easter Emptiness - March 27, 2016 ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Pastor Dale Lloyd
Scripture Reading: John 20: 1 – 18
Theme: Easter Emptiness
I recently came across this “Dear Abby” story: A young man from a wealthy family was about to graduate from high school. It was the custom in that affluent neighbourhood for the parents to give the graduate an automobile. "Bill’ and his father had spent months looking at cars, and the week before graduation, they found the perfect car.
On the eve of his graduation, his father handed him a gift wrapped Bible. Bill was so angry that he threw the Bible down and stormed out of the house. He and his father never saw each other again. It was the news of his father’s death that brought Bill home again. As he sat one night going through his father’s possessions that he was to inherit, he come across the Bible his father had given him. He brushed away the dust and opened it to find a cashier’s check, dated the day of his graduation - in the exact amount of the car they had chosen together.
I wonder how many people have done the same thing to God; literally tossed aside a wonderful promise, because they didn’t understand it, or they didn’t believe that it was possible. In our world, we are taught that; “if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.” So many of us have been taken in by “empty promises,” that we are leery of anything or anyone that tells us we can have something for nothing. The world just does not work that way. However, I can tell you God works that way. He never made a promise that was too good to be true.
The world is full of empty promises. Advertisements tell us that we can be happy, sexy, rich, or famous, if we only purchase a certain product. It doesn’t take long
before we have been fooled enough to know that the world’s promises are full of emptiness.
But, God is different. Instead of promises full of emptiness, on Easter, he gave us emptiness that is full of promise.
This morning, I would like us to think about the promises of Easter. There are three of them. Each promise is marked by something empty; an empty cross, an empty tomb and empty burial clothes. It is the empty cross, tomb, and burial clothes that assure us that God’s promises are real. Because he couldn’t be contained by the cross, the tomb, or even his burial clothes, we can be sure of the fullness of God’s promises in our lives.
The Empty Cross:
On that first Easter morning a band of loyal women walked about half an hour before sunrise, headed for the tomb of Christ. Their mission was to properly prepare his body for burial. Their fundamental concern was the problem of rolling away the stone from the tomb.
Before reaching the tomb they would see the hill, recognized by the locals as “The Skull.” On that hill they would see three crosses. Yesterday was the Sabbath, so nobody had yet removed them. So, there they stood an empty reminder of the horror of Friday.
The middle cross was, of course, the cross of Christ but there is one huge difference between Friday and this Easter morning: The cross is empty. And right there in that empty cross we have a promise that is not at all empty. The promise is full and eternal.
I can only imagine that both the vertical and horizontal beams of that cross were saturated with the blood of Christ. That blood inscribed a promise upon that empty cross. It was and is and always shall be the promise of redemption, reconciliation, restoration. But all of this is rooted in a single fundamental reality: the forgiveness of all our sins.
The cross was empty of the body of Christ, but that very emptiness was full of and shouting out the promise of God regarding the forgiveness of sin. The promise of the empty cross is that forgiveness of sin is guaranteed.
Rom.5:8 “God demonstrated His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, CHRIST DIED FOR US!”
2Cor.5:21 He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.
Eph.1:7 In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace.
When Jesus Christ breathed his last breath, he cried out; “It is finished.” The penalty was paid. He was the last sacrifice for the atonement of sin. Never again would blood be shed to deal with the sin problem. With His words, “It is finished” the veil of the temple was torn asunder from top to bottom. The way was now open for the individual believer to enter the very presence of God through the blood of Christ.
Rob East created a wooden cross and placed one on each chair in our sanctuary. I would ask that we all hold up that cross – hold it high. I invite you to join me in a simple but very powerful confession; just four words: “THE CROSS IS EMPTY.”
The Empty Tomb: (SLIDE # 2)
The second great reality of “Easter emptiness” is the empty tomb. Somewhere in that early morning journey the earth shook, angels appeared like lightning, Roman soldiers were knocked into a comatose state and the great stone was rolled away from the tomb. An angel was seated on the top of the stone and he announced: “Do not be afraid; for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who has been crucified. He is not here; He has risen!”
From the empty cross to the empty tomb, and just as there was a full promise in the empty cross, there is also a full promise in the empty tomb. According to the words of the angel, “Jesus is alive.” Suddenly that empty tomb is crammed full of promise and that promise is resurrection life. This is different from those times when Christ raised the dead in His ministry. They all died again. But this resurrection life of Christ is forever beyond the reach and power of death. He
simply lives forever, and this is the promise that flows out of that empty tomb; in Him we also live forever.
Heb.7:25 Therefore He is able also to save forever those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them.
The Empty Burial Clothes: (SLIDE # 3)
When this band of women left the tomb they reported all to the disciples. John and Peter ran to the tomb to make their own investigation. In the empty tomb they discovered a third empty item: empty burial clothes.
John reported that Nicodemus had brought a hundred pounds of spices to apply to the body of Christ. We need to understand the state of those burial clothes. We are not speaking of a robe or a gown. These were long strips of fine linen. The spices used to prepare the body of Christ for burial were ground to a fine powder. This was applied to the body itself. You have to remember that Christ’s body was one mass of open flesh. After the spices were applied the body was tightly wrapped with the strips of linen. Finally, a gum-like substance was applied to the linen. This of course, would become hard.
The point here is that this shell or cocoon would not have been easy to remove, greatly reducing the possibility that his body was stolen.
It wouldn’t be long, before Jesus, himself would appear to Mary Magdalene, and then to two disciples on the road, and then to all of the Apostles, and eventually to over 500 people. Here’s the point concerning all of those appearances: What was Christ wearing? We may not know what He was wearing, but we know what He was not wearing. He was not wearing the grave clothes.
Had Christ not left behind the grave clothes He could never have had any kind of relationship with people. His wardrobe changed from grave clothes to whatever was common to His time and place in history. This illustrates that Jesus isn’t some nebulous “force” out behind the moon.
The resurrected Christ desires personal and intimate relationship with each one of us. That can only happen within the context of a shared “wardrobe” – a shared humanity. This is what the writer to the Hebrews had in mind: Heb.2:14 – 15
Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise also partook of the same, that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and might free those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives.
There we have it; the three “Easter Empties:”
The empty cross – the promise of sins forgiven: redemption, reconciliation, restoration, regeneration.
The empty tomb: the promise of eternal life.
The empty burial clothes: the promise that they would once again have a close personal relationship with Jesus Christ in the context of a shared wardrobe – a shared humanity.
We often arrive at an incorrect interpretation of emptiness. We think it indicates the end of a thing, and very often it leaves us confused and disillusioned. The enemy takes advantage of the vulnerability of emptiness and tempts us to doubt the promises of God. What I hope you are able to grasp and take away from this message is that in those very places where we feel most empty; that’s exactly where the promise of God is going to become the most real to you.
Back to the story I started this message with: Be careful when you are tempted to throw away what appears to be empty and meaningless to you. The very promise of God you need most might be hidden somewhere in that very emptiness.